If what all trans people share is their abjection — defined as being cast off, degraded, contemptible, defined as the converse of privilege — then who the hell is going to want to identify as trans?
For many trans activists, though, this state of abjection is the at heart of their own belief system, and anyone who challenges it is being transphobic and not appropriately socially aware.
British artist Chrissie Daz has written about this in a piece called Trans: the phoniest community in Britain? In it, Daz posits that there are “no real people converging … to constitute the ‘trans community.'”
Of course, there are many real people who are concerned about trans issues, no doubt, but are we “converging” to “constitute a community?”
If you identify as lesbian or gay, you get to meet and be in relationship with other people who identify as gay or lesbian. That is a real benefit.
But what benefit does one get from identifying as trans?
Sure, that identification may give you a bit of language to explain your choices to a wider world, may get you some kind of medicalization benefits, and maybe, in some places, some protection against discrimination.
But does it build you relationships? Does it give you an empowering community? Does it get you laid?
No, it does not.
The big complaint Daz seems to have is with the coercive action of identity politics. The primary target of identity politics is not those outside the identified group, as they don’t care what others think about them. Daz has been the focus of some of this pressure for compliance with groupthink in language and expression and does not like it one bit. For Daz, trans is a journey to bold and unique individual expression, not group membership.
Rather the primary target is people who activists think should be in the group, but who do not conform to the way of thinking and being that activists approve. The attempt is to deny those people their own voice and identity unless their voice complies with the voice and identity chosen by group leaders. Look at people of color, women, or any other group in which identity politics activists have tried to deny membership to those who do not comply with the proscribed mindset and you will see lots of people ignoring the activists.
Daz identifies the theme of this imposed identity as vulnerability, which they reject. I identify the theme as abjection, which I reject. We are not important because we are broken, and identifying as abject & socially correct should not be the only legitimate passport to entry into trans spaces, trans umbrellas.
If standing up as trans means standing up as abject, then there will never be a convergence that forms a community. If our obligation is always to cede our voice to those who are defined as more abject that we are, we will never come together as a community.
Unlike Daz, I do believe that there are interlocking communities around trans, and I also believe that none of them are exclusive to transpeople.
But I also believe that the notion of “trans community” based on abjection (or vulnerablity) and used as a tool to demand compliance is a fiction of identity politics that does not serve our individual or community empowerment.
It is useful to teach people to examine their own assumed privilege to understand those who don’t have that privilege. We do need to be more open to those less fortunate than we are, need to be sensitized to systems of oppression. But is it useful to then try and build community based on abjection? I think not.
Even if your Women’s Studies prof says that the oppression and abjection of subject groups is what makes the world a bad place, I believe that being out, queer and empowered is what makes the world a better place. Go ahead, call me first wave.
I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.